Breast cancer research

Breast cancer starts in the breast tissue, most commonly in the cells that line the milk ducts of the breast. It is the most common cancer in the UK. It mainly affects women but men can get it too. Around 55,200 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year. That is around 150 people a day.

It is more common in women than men. Around 54,800 women are diagnosed each year and around 390 men.

1 in 8 women in the UK develop breast cancer during their lifetime. 1 in 870 men develop it. Most of the women who get breast cancer have had their menopause, but about 2 out of every 10 (20%) are under 50 years old.

Breast cancer risk can be affected by age, family history and lifestyle factors such as obesity and smoking.

There are several different types of breast cancer.

Invasive breast cancer

Invasive breast cancer means that the cancer cells have grown through the lining of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue. NST stands for No Special Type.

Special type means that when the doctor looks at the cancer cells under a microscope, the cells have particular features. Breast cancers that are classed as special type include lobular breast cancer and some rare types of breast cancer.

Most invasive breast cancers have no special features and so are classed as No Special Type. NST is also sometimes called NOS (not otherwise specified). It used to be called ductal carcinoma.

For invasive breast cancer you might have:

  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • a combination of these treatments

Triple negative breast cancer

Around 15 out of every 100 breast cancers are triple negative. Triple negative breast cancers are cancers whose cells don’t have receptors for:

  • the hormones oestrogen and progesterone
  • Her2 protein

Your doctor uses a sample of your cancer to test the cells for these receptors. You might have this testing following a biopsy of the cancer, or after surgery to remove it.

A rare type of breast cancer known as basal type breast cancer is usually triple negative. Some women with triple negative breast cancer also have a BRCA1 gene fault. BRCA1 is one of the gene faults that can increase the risk of breast cancer within families. Some men have triple negative breast cancer but this is very rare. Most men have oestrogen receptors in their cancer cells.

The main treatments for triple negative breast cancer are surgery and chemotherapy. You might have surgery to remove an area of the breast or the whole breast. When you have surgery, the surgeon usually takes out some of the lymph nodes under your arm to test to see if they contain cancer cells. You might have chemotherapy before surgery. The aim would be to shrink a large cancer enough to make an operation possible. Or it might mean that you can have an area of the breast removed, instead of needing a mastectomy. You usually have chemotherapy after the operation. The chemotherapy reduces the risk of the breast cancer coming back.

Inflammatory breast cancer

In inflammatory breast cancer, the cancer cells block the smallest lymph channels in the breast. The lymph channels (or lymph ducts) are part of the lymphatic system. They normally drain excess tissue fluid away from the body tissues and organs. The lymph channels can’t do this job properly if they are blocked.

This is a rare type of breast cancer. Between 1 and 5 out of 100 breast cancers are inflammatory breast cancers.

The treatment for inflammatory breast cancer can be slightly different than for other types of breast cancer.

You usually have chemotherapy as your first treatment. This is called neo adjuvant chemotherapy. It helps to control the cancer cells in the breast and reduces the swelling. It also aims to destroy any cancer cells that might have spread elsewhere in the body.